India Oct 23 Trip
- Off to another international trip Oct 18, 2023
I admit that escaping Atlanta for a warmer place the moment mercury drops down to the 40s is a bit of being a fair weather friend.
Truth is though, Sharmila is in India to see her mom during Durga Puja (after 31 years). I thought I would get a jump on the weekend and put another international trip to a country for this year under the belt. Can you guess where I am off to?
1. It is of course warmer than Atlanta now
2. The places outside of the USA I have already been to this year: Abaco (Bahamas), Canada, Curacao, El Salvador, England, France, India, Malta, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Turks and Caicos.
3. It is a very short stay – 3 nights to be precise
- Alea iacta est !! Oct 20, 2023
- A unique route to Mumbai Oct 20, 2023
Boarded Air France from Paris to Mumbai. First time I was flying this sector. We had to take a slight detour due to the unfortunate events going on in Palestine/Israel area. And looks like now threatening to spread to Lebanon.
The plane came down the Mediterranean Sea and stayed over the Sinai Peninsula over Egyptian air space. Came all the way to Aqaba (you may remember this place from Sharmila’s and my visit last year) and pulled a near right angle turn to the left to avoid air space over Jordan and instead went over Saudi Arabia and then onward.
- A remarkable young gentleman Oct 20, 2023
For a person like me who is an anachronism in so far as writing instruments are concerned, it is difficult to not marvel at somebody like Karan Dhir.
I lazily strolled into Terminal 1 of Mumbai airport a bit early for my maiden flight to Durgapur. I had flown out of Durgapur once and that was three months back but never into. My hope was to score my first delicious masala dosa this trip in the food stall inside the terminal.
Instead, like a fait accompli, I soon found myself scanning the fountain pens at the William Penn shop. There was nobody else other than an unassuming young gentleman at the counter. With who, I struck up a conversation. And was soon amazed by his knowledge of fountain pens.
I apologized for taking too much of his time. He would have nothing of it. He talked about how he comes across fountain pen collectors once in a while and can’t help exchange information and learn new things.
We went over to my website and checked out my collection – the bamboo pens, the glass pens, the quilt pens and of course the modern fountain pens. He taught me about some of the more modern Indian pen brands and we went over quite a few of the pens in the store.
I told him how I carry two fountain pens always in my bag. He stunned me by reaching into his bag and fishing out a hooded nib style Hero pen. You may remember how I had collected one of these. It has a very sentimental value to me. That was a gift my mom had received when she became a teacher!!
I was suitably impressed that in modern day and times when even keyboards are giving way to touchscreens, an young man like Karan Dhir still has a passion for classic instruments like the fountain pen.
I finally landed up picking up a fountain pen to add to my collection. And a few new writing pads for the coming year.
I must have made an impression on him. He insisted on gifting me a fountain pen from his side. I got a feeling no doubt like my mom had with her pen.
“I do not often meet collectors like you sir. Please accept this from my side.”
That was a surprise that started this whole trip of surprises!!
- Surprise!!! Oct 20, 2023
So, the surprise destination for me turned out to be India!! As I had mentioned, Sharmila came to India after 31 years to see Durga Puja with her mom.
Totally, unbeknownst to her, I had made plans to show up two days later for my Durga Puja after 31 years too!
Thank you Heida and SK for helping me plan it and Julia and Bess at office who pushed me to go ahead and pull the trigger (I was dithering till about a few days before Sharmila left).
My brother – the only person in India who knew – picked me up at the airport and after parking the car in front of Sharmila’s mom’s house, went inside – ready to take pictures.
And half a minute later, I walked in.
Check out the first reaction on her face realizing who was walking in!!
- My mother in law’s reaction Oct 20, 2023
My mother in law was on a call sitting outside in the yard. As I mentioned before, my brother had already walked in. And then I followed half a minute later.
I kept walking past my mother in law smiling at her to go in and give the surprise to Sharmila.
She could not utter a word. I could hear the other person on the phone yelling “Hello! Hello!”. She just kept staring at me speechless.
In Bengali, we say “bhoot dekhar moton” (like she had seen a ghost!!)
Much fun was had then over a cup of tea!!
- Next surprise – my sister in law!! Oct 20, 2023
Sharmila and I went to my brother’s in-laws’ place next. His family was there to celebrate Durga Puja. In their living area, I sat in a way where anybody who came out from inside of the house would see Sharmila first. And they would have to turn around to see me.
Check out the expression on my sister-in-law’s face!!
- Then it was the turn of the two heroes Oct 20, 2023
Following in a retinue behind my sister in law were the nephews. The elder one came out first, saw Sharmila, greeted her and turned around and was shocked to see me sitting on the sofa. Look at his face!
The younger one behind him was smiling at Sharmila. Completely oblivious of what was going to happen next!
- This guy is a wizard with animals! Oct 20, 2023
You might remember a post from seven years back where my brother took a minute to fill in gas (petrol) and thn five more minutes to pet all the puppies that lined up to him. He just loves animals and the animals return that favor in kind.
He had just this parrot in our uncle’s house for no more than two minutes when he had already opened the door and the parrot was kissing his palm all over!!
- Our first Puja in India after 31 years Oct 20, 2023
The last one was in 1992. I remember, it was during the Pujas then, that I had asked for the first time if she saw a future for us. And as I had mentioned in a post before, it was the first time she had told me “No”.
- The difficulties of making a secret plan Oct 20, 2023
For a very open, people-person like me, the difficulties of making a secret plan are simply unfathomable.
There was the planning part. I tried to make a ruse that I would visit Suriname when she would go to India. There was a credible ring to it since she did not know anything about the country but she knew I was committed to traveling to places most people do not know much about.
The execution part was a bit messy. Imagine this – she is in India on Indian time. I was in Atlanta in Eastern time. And then I am making up stories that I had reached Miami and will get on to my flight to Paramaribo. So now, there was the Suriname time to deal with. And after an 8 hour of inexplicable and very uncharacteristic quietness from me, I was in Paris in French time. I was a mess every time I was texting her trying to remember where the heck I was and what time it was supposed to be and avoid, for example, calling her at 2 am – my alleged local time!! Lest she asked – why are you calling me now? And I would be like – why? the sun is shining in Paramaribo… oh! wait!!!
The second part is how to undo all the plans she had made for me when she was to be gone. The day after she left, a huge amount of Indian food showed at my house that she had ordered from a local chef to tide over the period she would be gone. And there I was, scratching my head, wondering – “I wonder what TSA might have to say about two big packages of chicken tikka masala and paneer kofta on that radar like screen they keep staring at at the checkpoint”. Deciding that was a problem for another day, I simply stashed it in the freeze.
The reasonably easier part – but the one that worries her the most – was dealing with Jay Jay. Heida and Sigurjon immediately offered to help me with the secret. You can see here SK and I on the roof of a local bar – the midnight before I left – hashing out all the Jay Jay details. So that you understand where Sharmila comes from when it comes to her confidence in my ability to deal with Jay Jay – she marks his food in the fridge with big Post Its that say, predictably enough: “JJ’s food”. I still don’t believe it that she does not consider me discerning enough to realize the difference between my food and dog food.
And the final hurdle – and this is the most painful part is how to go thru my best part of life – traveling, taking pictures from the sky, meeting strangers …. AND NOT POST IT ON MY BLOG or Facebook!! That is not for somebody who is as faint of the heart like I. The counter challenge is if I did not post anything, she would get worried whether I was feeling well. Finally resorted to some other innocuous posts like map puzzles to fend her suspicions off!
Eventually, after a few missteps (that included me telling her that I had jumped on to a direct flight to Suriname instead of the one thru Panama after I realized that I had completely messed up the time zone I was allegedly in)… here I am! And none the worse for the wear, either!!
- Durgapur walk Oct 21, 2023
- Another family. Another surprise. Oct 21, 2023
My sister and her family were driving down from Kalyani to Durgapur. You probably remember how all our families are coming over to Durgapur for Durga Puja since Sharmila is here during this time after 31 years.
They were to visit my uncle’s house and the plot was laid to surprise them there. To be very safe, my brother kept this car a little away from my uncle’s house – so my sister would not realize that anything was going on. Plus there was some tree shade.
The minute we saw their car coming, I ran upstairs and waited for all of them to come and settle down in the living room.
And then a few minutes later, I walked in to the room. My sister was still on the floor playing with the pet parrot when she saw me. Check out her reaction! And my niece, once she recognized me, nearly had a heart attack!!!
Oh! By the way, they were looking for some shade too. And had parked their car right next to my brother’s car without realizing anything!!!
- My uncle’s family!! Oct 21, 2023
This is one of the advantages of coming to Bengal during Durga Puja. You get a chance to see whole families together. There are four generations right there in the picture. My septuagenarian uncle (who can easily pass as a 50-year old), my aunt, their two daughters, (one son missing in the picture), their three sons- and daughters-in-law, one granddaughter, one grandson, one great-grandson, my own two siblings, my brother in law and my niece!!
After my parents, this uncle was the closest one to us and our family.
- And the final surprise! Oct 21, 2023
My brother in law’s family was the last one to arrive. They usually are. My brother in law has been accused of many things in life – but never ever has anybody called him punctual.
They finally settled down at the lunch table two hours after lunch had started. Sharmila was throwing a lunch party for all the families at a local restaurant. I was hiding in the adjoining bar.
And then came up from behind and after tapping on this shoulder, asked him how he was doing. He turned around and… well, you can see his face!
- This never ceases to amaze me Oct 21, 2023
The Bengali fear of catching a cold!!! Today, my nephew and I were walking outside around 10 PM. It was 77deg F (25 C) I was working up a sweat but he was ordered to put a hat on! And unlike me, he has a head full of hair!
I also remember my dad wearing his monkey cap at the mere prospect of the sun going down!
This picture reminded me of the good old “Thanda legey jaabey”. This was around 7:45PM and it was 81 deg F (27 C). Loved the whole head gear and muffler thing under the helmet and whatever it was that the pillion rider lady was wearing. Interestingly, he is wearing short sleeves!
There are a few salient attributes that absolutely set us apart as Bengalis. Without a shred of doubt, fear of catching a cold would crack the Top Three!!
- North Avenue Pujo Oct 21, 2023
One of the first pujos I went to today was the one that I used to go when I was a kid! Pujos were something we used to wait for with bated breath. That was the one time of the year we would each get one or two new set of clothes. That was when there were no rules at home. And even at my home, no studies were to be had during those four days.
It was all about getting up, putting on new clothes and making a beeline to the “puja pandal” – a temporary structure set up to hold the festival. That breathtaking percussion noise of the “dhak“, the ringing of bells from the priest, the “mantra”s being channeled thru loudspeakers, the marvelous aroma of incense sticks… it was a breathtaking experience that kicked off on the morning of “Saptami” day!
Meeting friends, playing around, bursting crackers, eating in the “pandal” … those were stuff that dreams were made of for kids that were yet to pass the first decade mark.
Went back to that same “pandal”. So many things have changed and yet, so many things have remained the same!!
- Bhattacharya kakima!!! Oct 21, 2023
I had two great intersection points from my trip to the Durga Puja in my old neighborhood. This is the first one.
There were these two young kids – much younger than me – that lived in a house absolutely opposite end of our street from us. We were the first house on the right. They were the last house on the left. Although we used to play soccer in a field next to their house, we never played together because they were much younger.
I also remember they were both students of my mother in the local primary school. During one of those phone conversations with old friends much later, I had found out that they still live in the same house!! And are a big part of the local Durga Puja arrangements.
After reaching the Puja “mandap”, I noticed four adults sitting in a chair by the adjoining pond. Tried to see if I could recognize any of them as Pintu or Sintu. No luck. So, I went ahead and asked them if there was a Pintu or a Sintu nearby.
They immediately pointed me to one gentleman inside the mandap. As you can imagine, one by one, I met the two brothers who instantly remembered us moment I gave them our names. The icing on the cake was to meet their mom – our Bhattacharya Kakima!! Kakima and I sat down and talked for a long time of the old days and what happened to the whole neighborhood folks.
That was an incredible walk down memory lane!
- Second notable Puja for me Oct 21, 2023
We moved away from North Avenue to Ranapratap Road in Decemeber of 1979. “Ashish Market” or “Harsha Market Puja” was “our” puja. Most of the time was spent with friends just loitering around the “mandaps”, listening to the new Bengali songs released that puja season blaring on the loudspeakers (still cannot forget “Amar Pujar Phool” by Kishore Kumar – was that 1982 or 1983?), watching “dhunuchi naach” and checking out the prettily dressed girls.
I saw six Durga Pujas there – 1980, 81, 82, 83, 85 and 88.
That was our second target for the evening.
- Moitra Kakima ! Oct 22, 2023
When I met Pintu and Sintu, I had asked if any of the other old friends were still around. Most of the names they mentioned were strangers to me. I had already left by the time they had come in. Except one name – Joy Moitra!
I remembered him. In fact, I remembered his dad vividly. I think he was in the same department as my dad at work. The two distinct memories I have of his dad are that he always wore the traditional Bengali white kurta pyjama and he was never without a “paan” in his mouth!! This is a betel leaf wrapped around a areca nuts, slaked lime and other condiments – which were supposed to have a addictive, extremely mild narcotic effects. Was fairly common in Bengal then.
I also found out that Joy Moitra was the cashier for the Durga Puja Committee. However, he had to go somewhere else at that moment.
Not to be outdone, I went back to the same mandap the next day again. And hit pay dirt… saw this tall young gentleman (his dad was very tall) and asked him if he was Joy. I was overjoyed to hear his answer. Found out that his mom is still around and lives with him. Again, the same house for over 50 years!!!
As you can imagine, we walked up to his house and predictably had a blast with his mom remembering the good old days.
Walking back, I mused how I miss those previous generation folks who were such great personal examples and guides for me when I was very young and growing up. Most of them have gone, one by one. But, even the ones that are still around – most are feeble and ailing – I do not think I have made enough effort to meet them, reconnect with thme, talk to them and say Thank You!
Yesterday, I was able to say Thank You to Moitra-Kakima!!
- The women folk from this surprise trip Oct 22, 2023
- And the kiddos from this surprise trip Oct 22, 2023
- Long walk with my nephew Oct 22, 2023
This nephew of mine (my brother-in-law’s son) has always been a bit of a shy character. Last evening, he was the only kid left along with the rest of the adults. When the rest of the adults got in their cars, I offered him that we take the long walk home. He accepted.
We talked about so many things under the sky. Very impressed with his analytical way of thinking and structured way of responding. It was already 11 at night and we had been walking for over an hour by then. We had to leave our discussions unfinished.
There will be a next time!
- The differences in Durga Puja, as I remember Oct 23, 2023
It is the same joyous and festive carnival that I remember. Of course the decorations and lightings have become more high tech. There are many many more street food stalls than I remember.
But three things stood out as very different from what I remember of Durga Pujas three to four decades back.
1. Did not hear much “dhak” noise. There were a few places playing recorded versions and many places had real “dhaks”. But none of the hour long heart thumping “dhaaker baajna”. Also, “dhaks” these days don’t have leather hide membrane. It seemed like some artificial material.
2. No fire crackers – whatsoever. I remember dad buying firecrackers on “sasthi” day every year and we would set them out in the sun to become bone dry. From “saptami”, the fun would start. I saw three days of Puja here this time. Not one firecracker was burst.
3. Every “mandap” has a side stage where all sorts of cultural stuff were going on. Songs, dances, poetry and what not. Interestingly, in the old days, all the chairs for folks to sit down used to point to the “pandal” where the idol was. Now, all the chairs are gathered around the stage set for the cultural activities.
But like I said, the crowded streets, the delectable street food, the smart dresses… they have all remained the same!
- The all too familiar goodbye! Oct 23, 2023
- The see off party dropping me at Durgapur airport Oct 23, 2023
- Do you know how crazy we Bengalis are about Durga Puja? Oct 23, 2023
I walked upto the airport entrance, duly showed my boarding pass and identity card to the security guy who let me in. Walking in thru the glass doors, I had three options – go to the Indigo counter to the left, the Spicejet counter to the right or head straight to the Durga Puja!!
There is a Durga Puja going on inside Durgapur airport next to the check in counters!! Replete with the “dhak” and Kishore Kumar songs on the loudspeakers!! Every passenger, understandably, is in a festive mood!
They sure make it difficult to leave Bengal during the Pujas!!
- This makes so much more sense Oct 24, 2023
I have two flights – KLM taking me from Delhi to Amsterdam and then Delta taking me from Amsterdam to Delhi.
But I have one piece of paper as Boarding Pass. Never seen this before. Even when I travel domestic with the same airlines they give me two boarding passes if I am connecting.
This makes so much more sense. The bar code has all the details including what lounges I have access to in which airport!
Have you experienced this before?
- Serendipity strikes yet again! Oct 24, 2023
I had kept some time to do the formalities in New Delhi Airport. It took a fraction of that time. I was done checking in, immigration and then security in 9 minutes!! Tried to keep myself busy perusing the various shops but, none of them were to my interest.
So, went to the lounge that I was assigned to and was just going to settle down in a chair, when I saw Nilanjan next to me!! Nilanjan (DJ’s brother) and Masha have become great friends from to the meetings we have at bars when they visit DJ and PJ. I have some fond memories of Covid times when a few of us were an informal bubble and we got to interact with them a lot!
He was taking the Doha route to get back to the USA. I am taking the Amsterdam route!
- This surprise by the numbers Oct 24, 2023
Number of different airports I had to go thru: 6
Number of different airlines: 4
Hours in transit: 75
Hours in Durgapur: 75
Families surprised: 6
Number of Pujas seen: 10
Last time Pujas seen in Durgapur: 1992
Discovered friends from 50 years back: 3
Aunts/elders from met after 50 years or so: 2
Hoping the return segment will be smooth now. Regardless, this was one of the better surprises I have pulled off!!
- This is not normal for me Oct 24, 2023
But it did happen to me. Turns out, I shellacked the competition in a trivia contest. Admittedly, this was a competitor set of only another 300 people thoroughly jet lagged, alcohol addled and more interested in Bollywood thrillers than obscure facts.
The thing is it was a competition in the plane which had 5 levels. Each level had 16 questions. Level 1 needed you to clear 8 correct answers. Level 2 needed 10. Level 3 needed 12. Level 4 needed 14 and then of course – the final round.
The intriguing part is that I went to the final round before getting kicked out. As Jacob Zodikoff will tell you – I (and actually he too) can knock off most science, math or geography trivia. But the problem is most trivia is about art, music and pop culture. And I am a zippo there. For the record, the last movie I have seen is about three decades back. And I do not listen to any Western music.
I just go with educated guesses. My educated guesses were off the chart today!!